I realise this blog is a little out of the ordinary for me, but I do believe that we can have lightbulb moments in the most unlikely of places. This day created such a lightbulb moment for me I have a new found respect and understanding of our court system, it was definitely worth the half a day.
In late Feb I was riding my scooter and I triggered a red light camera but I had actually stopped and I wasn’t going to go through the intersection. When I got the fine in the mail I went online and put in my appeal to get the fine reversed. However, the SDRO couldn’t do it. So we decided to appeal it in court. I am really happy that I did because I learnt so much.
Why go to court? Yes it’s $433, which is a lot less than Skeeve’s and my hourly rate together, in this case it wasn’t really about the money. I had never been to court for anything before (aside from school excursions). So Skeeve said “there is no harm let’s give it a go, this is a great learning opportunity.” A great learning opportunity it was indeed, I really do have a newly found respect and understanding of the court system. In all honesty I didn’t think I really cared about my driving record until I realised it was totally clean after 9 years of driving and riding, I’d love my record to stay clean as long as possible.
When I walked into the court room I saw the Judge at the head back centre, she seemed to be in a good mood. Then in front of her were two clerks. One that didn’t leave her desk the whole time I was there and one guy who I was told was the the administration clerk, he did a lot of running around, co-ordination and handling of the tonne of paperwork.
I watched the judge handle about 15 cases before me, she seemed really fair, I don’t know why I was so shocked, judges are supposed to be fair. I have just watched too many movies and law shows. Very often, based on a driver’s history and the offence she would use her “discretion under section 10” to wave the fine and points.
The way my case got handled, I had to get up behind the mic two times, the first time was to plead “not guilty” and to ask to get a date to have my case heard. At that point the judge suggested I go to see one of the Duty Officers, that meaning there were two lawyers upstairs just sitting there waiting to answer people’s questions, for free. The Judge said I should go and see them before saying that I was not guilty because that is a lot harder than “pleading guilty with an excuse.” I ended up doing both which meant, I went to the next room and asked for a date for my “not guilty” case. Then, Skeeve and I went upstairs to double check with the Lawyers on Duty, in reality we were talking to two lawyers for 15mins, each of these lawyers would have been easily $500ph. This totally amazed me, I know that lawyers do pro-bono work but they were literally sitting there all day ready to help anyone who was going to be in court that day.
The lawyers upstairs really helped us because we went through my case and they helped us realise that I actually needed to go for the option of “pleading guilty with an excuse.” Even though I had set up the new date, it was totally fine, I went back to the second room, changed my plea and removed the previous date change. We then went back into the first room and said that I would now be changing my plea to guilty. Even better, the judge was happy to sort it out on the same day… after all of that. I was so shocked and humbled at this point, by the time I got up to see the judge again I was feeling like I deserved to pay the fine just to have this experience.
When it was my turn to get up and give my excuse, the Judge got my case paperwork, she read through it very carefully then said “well you don’t need to say much your driving record speaks for itself.” That’s my cue so say as little as possible. So I explained that I had obviously stopped on my bike but I triggered the red light camera because I rolled over the line that was the start of the intersection. The Judge wanted to know why motorbikes needed to be at the front of the intersection, which I tried to explain in as little words as possible, that it is about safety etc. After 60 seconds of banter the Judge said I was a “marvellous driver” and that “we need more people like you on the roads.” The Judge used her discretion under section 10 to remove the penalty and the points, which means my license is still clean. With a warning that this only happens once every 10 years so I need to stick to the road rules. I said “Thank you Your Honour” and left.
Lessons I learnt from the Judge:
- Be controlled and fair. Clearly it’s not good form for a Judge to get angry or flustered, this Judge nailed that code of conduct like she was born for the role.
- Follow the process. There is a process for everything that happens in a court, they might be boring but they are there for a reason.
- Not everyone knows what you know. The Judge was always happy to explain to any defendant things that were important or for their benefit. She never once assumed that we knew something or should have known something.
- Being fair, doesn’t mean being a push over. The Judge was really fair all day, sometimes a case required enforcement and sometimes it needed leniency, she knew exactly what to do, the whole time. When the Judge needed to enforce the penalty she was kind and firm about it, when she was using her discretion under section 10 she was kind but she did want to know that you didn’t intend to just continue breaking the rules, you needed to know what you had done wrong and say you don’t intend to keep doing it.
- Don’t loose your cool, ever. The poor Judge had to hear people talk when they didn’t need to, had to say the same thing over and over again and she was hearing about driving issues almost all day. I don’t know how she stayed so focused and calm all day.
- Show respect. Everyone has titles, you need to use them. When you walk into or out of the court room you are supposed to give a small bow in sign of respect to The Commonwealth.
- Stay on top of admin. From what I could see, about 40% of the Judge’s day was admin and specific case files, names and dates etc. All of this did seem to help though, the Judge always had the right paperwork and was always doing exactly what needed to be done, no more, no less.